Recently in Philly, I had the opportunity to converse with a friend of mine who was a teacher in religious school. This friend mentioned that even though the way of religious life in that Jewish community -and other places as well, – seems to be shifting, that one aspect of Jewish communal life remains the same. “People are searching for something,” this friend said.
Whether in Philly, London, or Washington, Jerusalem, or here in Harrisburg, it is safe to say that my friend’s assessment rings true. We are seekers and voyagers. We are looking for answers amidst a complex world of seemingly endless questions. We want our lives to be imbued with meaning, our journeys to be filled with purpose. And these days, as the “spiritual” quest continues to dominate, and it is so much easier for us to admit “we are not very religious,” we find it becomes easier to turn away from the standardized structures of Judaism and embrace alternative paths which offer healing, comfort, and inspiration.
If I stop to think about the comfort I derive from exercising regularly, or the emotional benefit that comes from having supportive conversations, I too would argue that there is a world beyond Judaism. But these paths don’t inspire me toward a life of holiness. Judaism does. At every step of the journey, there is a place to bring blessing into our lives, there is a teaching challenging and inspiring us, a lesson encouraging us to make the world a better place. Even in a parashah such as this one (Chukat), where we read about the mystery of the red heifer, an ancient purification ritual for those who had come in contact with a corpse. What is perhaps most fascinating about this ritual is that its inherent meaning has stymied even the most brilliant of commentators for countless generations! No one knows exactly why this ritual is included in the Torah for; many claim it is beyond human understanding!
If rituals of ancient Jewish life are beyond human understanding, what lesson can rest in them for us? How can we be inspired, how can we achieve holiness, how can we find comfort if even the greatest of commentators don’t know how to interpret a particular text? God has given us brilliant spiritual and intellectual gifts and God has given us the opportunity to grow, to seek, to search, to question, to interpret, to study, to learn, to discover and to offer inspiration, and most especially, to find ways in our own lives to bring greater holiness into the world. It’s not about easy answers to difficult questions, but about the fact that we are searching, seeking, and journeying together. Our lives are not about reaching that final destination, but about the search we engage in on our collective voyage. What are you searching for? Come and join us. Let’s discover it together!